100 Years Ago: November 1921
This is the eighty-second entry in my series of abridgements of National Geographic magazines written as they reach one hundred years of their publication.
The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Through the Heart of Hindustan” and was written by Maynard Owen Williams, author of such articles as “Russia’s Orphan Races”, “Czechoslovakia, Keyland of Central Europe”, and “Adventures with a Camera in Many Lands”. It has the internal subtitle “A Teeming Highway Extending for Fifteen Hundred Miles, from the Khyber Pass to Calcutta”. The article contains twenty-nine black-and-white photographs, seven of which are full-page in size. Although this article, and the other articles in this issue, all relate to the Indian Subcontinent, there is no map of India contained in any. There is, however, a footnote on the first page referring the reader to the supplement Map of Asia from the May 1921 National Geographic.
There was nothing provincial about India’s Main Street. Starting at the Khyber Pass, it ran to Calcutta. The railway which paralleled its 1,500 miles diverted much traffic from the open road. But the bullock-carts still rolled on and motor-cars had made their presence felt from the northwestern frontier province to Bengal. The “broad road” of Kipling’s lama and his chela, Kim, ran through one of the most thickly populated regions in the world. It was a plain road, from beginning to end. From the mud fort of Jamrud to the docks at Kidderpore, this highway was a low way. It passed over the watershed between the Indus and the Ganges at an altitude less than a thousand feet. Then it ran along the Jumna and the Ganges to the alluvial delta, and Calcutta. To the left, through the entire length of the road, were the eternal hills, beyond which the snow wall of the world’s mightiest mountains could sometimes be seen. To the right was the jumble of low hills which bore various names. Although the road ran through a region of rivers, it was in no way a garden. During much of the year, it was dusty and dry. Through most of its length, irrigation had been developed to a high degree. The farmer bought water as he bought land. From the arid furnace of Ali Masjid, in the Khyber, to the steamy Sundarbans, this road was deadly hot at times, but along the watershed between India’s two most famous rivers, the nights in winter could be bitter cold. Main Street ran from the aridity of less than ten inches of rain annually, near the Afghan border, to the region of 75 inches beside the lower Ganges. Further south, the rains were even heavier – 75 feet in 1861 was recorded in Cherrapunji. In 1876, the southwest monsoon dumped 41 inches of rain in a single day. Throughout the entire plain, which flanked the great Indian highway, the mean average temperature was between 75- and 78-degrees F. The density of population, like the rainfall, was lighter at the northwestern end, but from Rawalpindi to Calcutta, one had to travel a considerable distance to either side of the highway to find a population less dense than 400 persons per square mile, although this was largely an agricultural land.
Races were strung out along the road like ethological exhibits, but the constant flow of life along the boulevard masked the various stages in transition, from Turko-Iranians of Kabul to Mongolo-Dravidians of Calcutta. From the Pashto of Peshawar, one entered the linguistic area of Lahnda, or Western Punjabi, with plenty of Kashmiri, another of the Outer-Aryan tongues. Then Punjabi shading off to Hindustani, the official language of a much larger region than that where it was common speech. Eastern Hindi, Bihari, and Bengali completed the languages spoken along the road. Faced with so many tongues, the author fell back on English and sign language, and found that both were understood. Along the whole road, one found Hindus and Mohammedans in imposing proportions. Between Lahore and Delhi, the Sikhs revealed themselves in considerable numbers, and at Buddh Gaya, the Buddhist added a touch of variety to the religious complex. Though honeycombed with many faiths, India was primarily a Hindu land. The wide religious influence projected by praying Moslems was a thin veneer of monotheism over the huge mass of Hinduism, with its millions of gods. While the road served agriculture rather than industry or mining, home industries were general throughout its course. A curio lover could go from the Afghan border to the foreign shops of Calcutta and never be far from a place where carpets, wood carvings, embroideries, ivory work, fine fabrics and brocades, soft textiles, metal-works, and pottery were found. The center where each of those were made might be some distance away, on some side street, but there were numerous places along Main Street itself where all could be procured.
The very name Khyber Pass was romantic. To see it on the semi-weekly convoy day was to be transported back through the ages to the time when three wise men swayed to the slow strides of their desert mounts while following the star. Out in the dry plain below the southern mouth of the Pass was the mud fort of Jamrud, its flat surrounding cluttered with tents and adobe huts. High on the plateau, near the Afghan end, was Landikotal, a lonely camp held by the guards of the gates of India. Half-way through was a cluster of tents known as Ali Masjid. In winter, the Khyber was more like the Near East than India, but in the summer, the gash in the sun-hot hills was a fiery furnace and a living hell. At Ali Masjid, a breeze would have been a godsend. The atmosphere shimmered in heat-waves like the surface of a boiling cauldron. Here the two caravans met, the one hastened southward toward the Kabuli Bazaar in Peshawar, the other, the long, dangerous trail to the Hindu Kush. When the rough-coated Bactrians, whose home stretched along the high plateau of Asia from Iran to the Gobi, supplemented their hardier cousins from the lowland deserts, the narrow funnel of the Khyber seemed clogged with dark-brown camel hair; but, dashing alongside the road reserved for caravans, hugging the new highway constructed for them, there roared a convoy of military motors. The Khyber Pass was pictured as the key to India. Whether it was the military or political key was a question. India still deluded the world with visions of untold wealth instead of unspeakable misery. The camel was the reason. The zoological caricature called the camel was a relief map of romance. No cheap bulk freights for him! Silk, spices, jewels, priceless stuffs of soft pashmina or stiff cloth of gold – those were the cargoes! Alchemists didn’t dream of pig iron. Rich cargo spelled romance. The author then waxed poetic about the camel, its ugliness and its cargo.
In Bombay, motor trucks would batter your ear-drums, if not your body. In Calcutta, a striking taxi driver might smash your windshield. In Madras, the bullocks smelled of kerosine and motor oil. Modernity in India would come soon enough. But the Khyber Pass on convoy day took one back to the days of jeweled potentates and Georgian slave-girls. India was a vast, prosaic land where the suffering people clung to unwavering hope. Peshawar, like many cities in India, was a combination of native city and cantonment – the former closely packed, the latter widely sprawled. There were tennis courts and polo grounds. The cantonment was where the visitor slept and ate, and where he obtained permission to traverse the gash in the barren hills through which the Central Asian commerce ebbed and flowed. The native quarter was more interesting, consisting of mud walls and mud houses with open-roofed second stories. There the women-folk lived and men climbed to in summer to escape the heat of the room below. Peshawar’s streets were marketplaces. Rich carpets from Bokhara, Merv, and Afghanistan, bright copper trays, geometrically piled fruit, and painted pottery were sold. The bright-colored lungis, bound around pointed skull-caps seemed to transform ordinary-looking Punjabis or Pathans into supermen. The turbans of India, like the sombrero of the cowboy, were magical headgear which made heroic figures of commonplace men. The grain market in Peshawar was like the one in Samarkand. The colorful turbans of yellow, lemon, pink, and white, contrasted with the khaki-colored coats of war times.
The author and his party had gone to the Khyber the day before Christmas. They were awoken the next morning to the sound of bagpipes outside their hotel playing Christmas carols. Leaving the cantonment, they passed the railway station where the Calcutta mail started its 1,600-mile dash. They swung into the dusty road which led to the native city. Across the field, great arching trees showed dimly through the haze of morning. Further on, a satiny canal shimmered in morning sun. As the dark shadows of a row of small arches grew out of the haze, a long line of camels emerged from the city gate and made their way to a muddy drinking place. Walking through narrow streets between plain walls, the author imaging the days of Ali Baba. In a sunny corner, wedged between mud walls, an open-air tailor shop turned a pile of white cotton cloth into the latest style of masculine garb. A street peddler sold the short socks the Moslem women liked. In another street deft workers were patterning the insignia of some frontier regiment on squares of silk with viscous wax, art motifs of the unchanging East. But the East was changing. Steam, electricity, and motors were transforming India. Against that tide, Gandhi and his followers sought to turn back the clock to a simpler time. The party passed through the shameless street of the harpies and out into the main bazaar. The glint of hand-hammered copper suggested Mohammedan ways, just as the more radiant brass of Benares signified the Hindu faith. A crowd was gathered around a man claiming proof that the sun revolved around the earth. Neither that man, nor Einstein could shake the author’s faith in the old-time planetary laws. He declined to debate the man despite the fact of an offer to have the argument translated. At a prominent corner, near the principal mosque and surrounded by the booths of money-changers, there was a small kiosk; its rails hung with skins which the tanners had left to dry. On the sidewalk, a bevy of barbers shaved tortured clients with a ruthless lack of emollients. A side street climbed to a high tower, where one could see the entire town. That fact was known to the women of the neighborhood who, when on their rooftops kept their veils drawn closed. No city reached by iron rails could quite express the East, but mud Peshawar was well worth visiting. The northern end of Main Street was full of exotic charm to warrant a trip of nearly sixteen hundred miles.
Between Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Main Street and its attendant railway crossed the swift Indus at Attock, where a fort erected by Akbar reminded one of that he was on a historic highway. Traffic policemen and corner cigar stores had not yet taken the place of forts and caravanserais which marked the crossroads. Here, Alexander the Great was supposed to have crossed the Indus on a bridge of boats. At Agra, one could see the fairest monument royal lover ever erected to his wife’s memory. The Taj Mahal was known to the world as a dream in marble. But, here at Attock was the Nur Mahal, the Light of the Palace. A short, dull ride brought them to Rawalpindi. It was the place where the soft shawls, the fine wood-carvings, and the gaily-colored embroidery of Kashmir were sold. Lahore, the city of Kipling and Kim, was worthy of a story of its own. As capital of Punjab, Lahore was being beautified with many buildings which retained the spirit of the past. The crowded bazaars, overhung by balconies, were always amove [sic] with life. Behind the Great Mosque, pastoral flocks grazed while shepherds smoked their gurgling hookahs. Lahore, like many other Main Street cities, had its “pearl bazaar”, where the waiting harpies were “Flowers of Delight”, sitting on soft cushions gazing down at the street. The author sought to photograph one of the dancing girls. The women were at a loss to classify him, but once they realized that he would play fair, and not take photos without permission, several of them posed for him. Around the dusty base of the cityward walls of an ancient fort, herds of water-buffalo baked in the sun, but around the city of the thirteen gates there ran a green girdle of gardens, pleasing to the eye. Only in the northwest was that circle of coolness broken by a dusty expanse stretching toward the Ravi River. At the intersection of two streets was the Sonehri Masjid, with its three golden domes. Across a square, one saw the great arched entrance to the Mosque of Wazir Khan.
Leaving by the fort-like station of Lahore, an hour’s ride brought the author’s party to Amritsar, whose carpets all the world now knew. Within the long, low sheds, the weavers worked with shaggy balls of varicolored wool. While the Oriental rug designs of Merv were popular, several looms in Amritsar were given up to Chinese designs. In India, Amritsar was better known as the mecca the stately Sikhs. They furnished Shanghai with policemen and the Indian army with warriors. The scenes around the Nectar Pool and the Golden Temple of the Sikhs were very attractive to the author. Amritsar was a low-lying city with a reputation for malaria, but it was second to Delhi as a commercial center of the Punjab. Two religious fairs, held in April and November, spread the fame of the city, and famine in Kashmir drove weavers to Amritsar who established an extensive industry in shawls. To enter the Sikh temple enclosure, one must remove his shoes and could not carry any tobacco inside the gate which led to the sacred pool. A marble causeway with rows of gilt lamps on each side led to the Golden Temple. In the center of the temple was a widespread cloth upon which a shower of pilgrim coins was continually clinking. The rupee the author tossed won him a rock candy in the form of a bowl. Sikhs formed only one-ninth the population, one-half of which was Mohammedan while Hindus outnumbered Sikhs four to one. The Sikhs were a reformed sect of Hinduism. The sect was founded by Nanak, a native of Lahore, in the late fifteenth century. They denounced idolatry and had abolished the caste system.
When it came to visitors, Delhi stood in a class by itself. Benares was a religious edifice, and Allahabad was a hive of Hindu pilgrims, but Delhi attracted a great number of visitors not interested in temples or mosques but in the historical buildings of the fortress. The Hall of Private Audience in the Delhi fortress was the most splendid interior outside the Library of Congress. Outside the city of Delhi, it was almost sure that one would come across a bullock-cart camp. The women at the camp baked bread and the men rested, while the children played. Along the roads outside Delhi in winter one saw donkeys with barelegged drivers. Many capitals had risen and fallen above the dusty plains between Delhi and the Kutb Minar, and a new one was being built. The buildings of the new capital were to be immense. Thousands of brick wells protected the tiny trees which they enclosed. Those unimposing piles marked out future roads. If the sheltered trees could be made to grow, those branching avenues could rival those of Nikko. It was hard to leave the lovely fort, the imposing mosque, the colorful river bank, and the lively Chandni Chauk, but Agra lied ahead, and even Delhi must give way to the Taj Mahal. Its loveliness, enhanced by green gardens and mirror-like waterways, made it impossible to describe. One approached it across a golf course. On each corner of the main platform stood a white marble minaret with three balconies. The tourists the author saw, were fascinated by the tomb’s symmetry. The author was impressed by the beauty of many of the buildings of the Agra citadel, including the tomb of Itimad-ud-daula, father of Nur Jahan, made famous as Nur Mahal. The splendor of the moon made the hotel business of Agra fluctuate like a lunar see-saw. Over the twin tombs swung a lamp from Cairo placed there by Lord Curzon, the English Raj, in memory of the woman who was his Mumtaz-i-Mahal.
Allahabad was ordinarily an uninteresting city; but during the mela it took on the odor of sanctity because of its position between the two great rivers, the Ganges and the Jumna. Once a year, the Megh Mela was held. Once in twelve years the Kumbh Mela buried the plain beneath a flood of human beings. A mela was a religious fair, but it seemed to the author that melee was a more appropriate name. At the annual fair, the number of pilgrims on a given day was a quarter of a million. In 1930, the next Kumbh Mela, they expected the crowd of a million and a half to bathe in the sacred rivers. During a mela, no carriages were allowed on the grounds, sanitation was lax, and photographs were forbidden. Holy men, dressed in gray coats, chatted and meditated. They chanted psalms and strummed a mandolin-like instrument. Over the whole ant colony of massed humanity hung a yellow dust cloud stirred up by the myriad of bare feet and awkward slippers. Like other religious fairs, the Megh Mela at Allahabad was a mecca for money-makers. The principal thoroughfare was lined with shops selling religious articles. The author entered the grounds with his camera, not knowing that photography was forbidden. An old man asked to have his picture taken until a policeman came up and told him cameras weren’t allowed. The crowd overruled the policemen, and the author was compelled to take the photo.
From Allahabad to Benares was a step from periodical pilgrimage to perpetual piety. It was a city of narrow streets in which the heavy scent of jasmine became a stench. There were a few places that foreigners were allowed to enter. Benares was a crescent waterfront on a filthy stream, backed by a malodorous city. The Ganges was filthy, but people bathed in it, drank from it, washed their clothes in it, and even threw half-burnt bodies into it. For three miles, the river front was lined with a succession of ghats and palaces, which made it a vision of beauty. Benares was a popular place to die. Thousands of Hindus arrived with one foot in the grave each year. Funeral fires were always burning, not only at the regular burning ghat, but other places along the stream. Th procession of corpses seldom ended. The author saw two beautiful women bathing, and then a group of widows with shaven heads. They looked bleached, as though widowhood was an anemic disease. The widows who came to Benares were forbidden by law to join their husbands in their funeral pyres; but they were also cursed with bitterness. Benares was famous for its brass-work and its kincobs, resplendent silken fabrics woven with gold and silver thread. And the author felt that a handbag of Benares brocade surpassed in loveliness the best bead bags in the luxury shops in Vienna. The author was almost penniless when he reached Benares, but managed to secure a loan from a scarf merchant. And he got a scarf out of the deal. At the station at Benares the hawkers sold small marble paper-weights reading “God is Love” and “Time is Money”. Benares gave strange interpretations to both statements. At Sarnath, near Benares, Buddha first preached his doctrines. In 1921, the nearest Buddhist were beyond the Brahmaputra or up the Himalayan foothills, except for a small group in the rest-house of Buddh Gaya. Asoka was said to have erected a temple there in the third century before Christ. The Hindu pilgrims who visited the temple of Vishnupad in Gaya, also visited the Buddhist shrine. Gaya was charming because of its peacefulness, just as Benares was interesting because of the constant throb of life, and the pall of death which hung with the smoke from the funeral pyres.
After Lahore and Benares, after the gay colors of Amritsar and the crowds of Allahabad, Calcutta was of little interest to the author. The docks teemed with life. There was a racetrack more famous than most. One night, he attended the Duke of Connaught’s ball in the Government Building. The district made infamous by the Black Hole was as imposing as any western financial district. Kalighat reminded the author of Benares. The theaters recalled Piccadilly Circus or Times Square. Calcutta, the queen city of India, was proud of herself. “Second City of the Empire” was a phrase often appearing in the Calcutta papers. The Maidan of Calcutta was a great breathing space for a breathless city. It had a tall monument that looked like a lighthouse, and it was the most conspicuous stock farm in the world. Sheep browsed, cropping the grass of cricket and soccer fields; goats ran about; thoroughbred horses were led back and forth in plaid blankets; pedigreed pups were cared for by laborers; pet birds were caried about; and fishes were raised in ponds. Calcutta, of all India’s cities, has suffered most from commercialization. One hazy morning, the author’s party slid down the Hooghly in a spotless little ship. It was an hour before they emerged from the muddy waters of the stream and into the deep blue of the bounding sea. Down the coast lied Burma. And after Burma, Colombo, Marseilles, Paris – home. India was a continental stage on which many dramas were constantly being enacting. To the tourist it was an unparalleled spectacle.
The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Marble Dams of Rajputana” and was written by Eleanor Maddock. The article contains twelve black-and-white photographs by the author and by courtesy of Prince Bhopal Singh. Four of those photographs are full-page in size.
Time in India was not reckoned by years, but rather by centuries. Her dynasties rose and fell, buried one above the other under the relentless sands of her five rivers. When the first Mohammedan invasion poured into India through the vulnerable passes of the Himalayas, they found states and cities inhabited by thirty-six royal races of Indo-Aryans, with a civilization with knowledge of constructive and mechanical arts. of cosmic laws, and of how to harness certain forces of nature. But as great and powerful those Hindu states were, they were overthrown, one after the other, when the Moslem horde swept down upon them. Some less abled to withstand submitted to their new masters, while others fled their fertile valleys to the less tempting wild country, bordering the Great Indian Desert. The Aravalli Hills of Rajputana were much like the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland, with its mountain fastnesses, and ravines spanned by natural ramparts. The remnants of the thirty-six races retired there to escape the hated invaders. Still possessed of vast hidden wealth and resources, they established the states of Rajputana, or Rajasthan, the “Land of Princes”. Rajputana was the heart of India, first because it occupied the central area, and again by being the exclusive territory of the Rajputs, the proud survivors of the old Indo-Aryan stock. The states ruled by native chiefs or princes included Mewar (Udaipur), Marwar (Jodhpur), Amber (Jaipur), Bundi, Jaisalmer, Kotah, and more of lesser importance. While all Rajputs claimed descent through the solar dynasty, the Sesodias (Gahlots) were the oldest and purest race. Of the Sesodias, the Maharana of Mewar was the premier. He was called the “Sun of the Hindus”, and took precedence over all the maharajahs, princes, and chiefs of India. In Sanskrit, Maha meant “great”, and Rana was the title used by the old Sesodia kings. Rajputana was drenched with blood during the wars fought by the Rajputs to preserve their lands, purity of race, and their women from the Mohammedans, who had overrun nearly all of India.
Mewar, though the most important of the Rajputana states, was the least known to western travelers. Yet it contained some of the chief wonders of India. The white marble lake-palaces of Udaipur were unsurpassed. The sculptured ruins of its old capital city of Chitor covered the top of a sheer rock ridge, four miles long and four hundred feet high. Locked away in the Aravalli Hills were marble palaces, temples, and fortresses set on their topmost peaks, with two artificial lakes held by great dams of pure white marble. One could travel from Bombay to Delhi by rail without changing cars, but there was only one railroad in the state of Mewar. It was a single track, narrow-gauge line which branched off the main line at Chitor, and ran to Udaipur, a distance of 69 miles. Apart from those two places, Mewar was inaccessible to the traveler, except through the courtesy of the Maharana of Udaipur. Each year, he made a trip into the Aravalli Hills to worship at the shrine of his ancestors, at Eklingi. His Highness also traveled there for the shikar, or shoot. His hunting entourage included bullock-carts, camels carrying tents and provisions, courtiers riding elephants, a small army of servants, and the celebrated Arabian horses of Kathiawar. When the author and her husband were state guests of the Maharana, they accompanied him on such an expedition. They first went to Jai Samand (the Sea of Victory), or Dhebar Lake, an artificial body of water ninety miles in circumference. That lake had been filling for two and a half centuries, ever since Jai Singh, the Rajput king imprisoned a mountain stream behind a colossal dam over 1,000 feet long with flights of white marble steps extending the entire length to the water’s edge. Along the top were pavilions, with a temple and summer-house at each end. On jutting buttresses, six half-sized marble elephants stood with raised trunks. On a height of 700 feet overlooking the lake, Jai Singh set up a three-storied white marble structure with an expanse of glistening walls set with small pierced marble grilles. That was the “Wind Palace”, which Jai Singh was said to have built for his queen, Rani Comala. The roof court of the Wind Palace was surrounded by a lofty open lattice.
Only twenty-five miles from Udaipur, a day’s journey on horseback or by elephant, was Raj Samand, another artificial lake, the work of Rana Raj Singh at a cost of $5,000,000, at a time when labor was cheap and the material lay in convenient quarries. Like Jai Samand, its waters were gathered from a mountain stream, and, while not as large in area, it had a far greater depth. The Raj Samand dam formed an irregular segment of a circle, extending for nearly three miles. It, also, was white marble all faced and polished. It was buttressed by thick ramparts of earth. Three terraces of steps descend to the water. On the lower tier rose four elaborately carved arches. Marble terraces extended out over the water, supporting three twelve-pillared pavilions. A walled fortress, with the dome of a white palace rising from its center, crown a sloping, flat-topped mountain above the dam. At its foot was the temple of Kankroli, the shrine of Hanuman, guardian and protector of the dam, a four-faced, many-armed marble statue decorated in gold and colors. Lake Raj Samand was a famine work which took ten years to build. It was built in response to the famine of 1661, during the first years of Rana Raj Singh’s reign. The lake was not only a monument to the thousands who perished, but literally the water of life to the generations of the future. The engineering feats which converted those vast arid wastes into fertile rice and grazing fields were even more impressive when considering it was all done by hand labor, dynamite being unknown at the time. Large blocks of marble were raised by using inclined planes constructed of stout bamboo. Temples in India were usually found near rivers or beside springs, as water for bathing was important in both the Hindu and Mohammedan religions. Therefore, the waterless and most inaccessible region of Rajputana was the last place where one would expect the temple of Eklingi. Eklingi, like the dams, was of white marble from the foundation stones up, immense and most elaborately embellished. The temple represents the accumulated works of a long line of kings. Rana Kumbha’s life work for the protection of Mewar was the building of thirty-two fortresses. Chief among them was Komulmair on the “Hill of Kumbha”. The hill was pierced with secret chambers, with huge cisterns in solid rock were used for storing water.
Chitor was easy to access. All that was needed was to write to the private secretary of the Maharana, who made arrangements at the rest-house. Trains from Bombay and Delhi met a Chitor. The gigantic walled rock, crowned with a dead city, loomed afar. Chitor was once an impregnable fortress, the throne of a hundred warrior kings, and the repository of vast treasure and priceless works of art. Along the zigzag ascent, bronze gates closed the seven great archways, each large enough for an elephant topped by a howdah to pass. Above all, towers the majestic Pillar of Victory, begun in 1451 and finished some years later. It stood as firm on its rock foundation in 1921 as when Rana Kumbha built it. It was carved with imagery of every object known to Hindu mythology. The column stood 122 feet high, with each of its faces 35 feet broad at the base and over 17 feet broad under the cupola. It had nine stories, with landings on a spiral staircase. In the vaulted chamber at the top were black marble slabs inscribed with the genealogy of all the kings of Chitor. The exterior walls and fluted domes of half-ruined temples and other buildings were deeply carved. In its day, the Temple of Brahma must have been one of the most beautiful specimens to be found in India. Now in ruins, it was, ironically, not destroyed by the Muslim hoard. Being dedicated to the Creator of all, and having no idols either inside of out, they passed it by. The Tower of Fame was more ornate than in good taste. True Hindu arches were on each of its four faces. It was rare to find royal dwelling from the fourteenth century with any original architecture remaining; but in Chitor, many were present in almost inhabitable appearance. Their preservation since man laid them waste was due to building materials – hard Rajputana marble, limestone, and quartz, on a solid rock foundation. In a deep cleft of rock was the “Gau-Mukh”, or “Cow’s Mouth”, where water trickles from a carved cow’s mouth into a stone tank wrenched asunder by the roots of an old mimosa tree. The royal fortress city, almost from its foundation, was the object of greed and lust. During the third and last sack of Chitor, the armies of the Moslem King of Delhi laid siege. All of the women killed themselves instead of being captured. For nearly a hundred years, the spot where the holocaust took place was shunned. A pair of bronze gates, two alabaster elephants, and the great kettle-drums were carried off by Emperor Akbar, and may be seen at the old Mongol palace at Agra.
Embedded in the second article is the third item listed on the cover, “The Empire of Romance – India”. It is a series of sixteen full-page, colorized black-and-white photographs. The Plates are numbered I to XVI in Roman numerals and represent pages 481 through 496 in the issue. While a few of the photos have been colorized fairly well, many seem almost cartoon-like.
The list of caption titles is as follows:
“A Woman of Nepal at the Darjeeling Bazaar”
“The Mirrored Minarets of Hyderabad”
“When one of Jaipur’s Tinseled Gods Goes Visiting”
“The Lovely Lake of Kashmir’s Vale”
“A Bullock Train in Lucknow”
“Where Citizens Enjoyed the Rights of Royalty”
“An Indian Well Near Delhi”
“Human Interest on the Northwest Frontier”
“A Tamil Woman Plucking Tea Leaves”
“A Musula Boat Going Out to the Ships”
“Afghan Camel Boys and Their Commerce Carriers of Central Asia”
“India’s Honeymoon Car”
“A Quetta Taylor Who Also Cobbles”
“It’s No Circus to be an Elephant in Jaipur”
“One of Peshawar’s Sixteen City Gates”
“Petrified Lace on the Jain Hill of Wisdom”
The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Outwitting the Water Demons of Kashmir” and was written by Maurice Pratt Dunlap. The article contains nine black-and-white photographs taken by the author. Seven of these photos are full-page in size.
The author stood by a lake of the cleanest water nestled in a green valley and mirroring snow-capped mountains that towered above it. Across the water came a fleet of boats rowed by dark-skinned men wearing white turbans rowing with heart-shaped oars. They appeared to be interested in something in the water. It was a score of swimmers making it to the beach. They sank exhausted on the grass after a three-mile swim across the lake. They were the young men of Kashmir, that queer nook of a kingdom to the north of British India, shut in from the world by the Himalayas. They came from good Hindu and Mohammedan families, who were taught for centuries that swimming was an ungentlemanly art. Over twenty years ago, a young Englishman, Dr. C. E. Tyndale-Bisco, assumed control of the Church Mission School of Kashmir, in Srinagar. Some 200 young men attended the school, many who merely to learn enough English and math to pass the state exams for civil-service employment. The young Englishman felt that physical, as well as mental training, was needed by those physically lazy students. Here were people whose ancestors had scorned gymnastic and all manner of manual labor for thousands of years. By 1921, the school had 600 pupils, but their number was of relatively small importance compared to the transformation which had been affected. Those young men no longer attended school to pass the state exam; nor were they “rice Christians”, fawning over foreigners merely to keep rice in their stomachs and clothes on their backs; nor did the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian students each associate exclusively with those of their own belief. They came from all ranks and castes. Statesmen and missionaries from all over India journeyed thousands of miles to visit the school and study its methods. The Viceroy of India and the Maharajah of Kashmir had visited.
The originality of the method centered on the “character form-sheet” that was made for each pupil. A register was kept with a page for each boy, and three times a year, his character was graded. The marks were classified in three divisions: Body, Mind, and Soul. Subjects included: gymnastics, boating, swimming, games, and manual labor; deportment, “absence of dirty tricks”, self-control, and cleanness; obedience, honesty, pluck and unselfishness; esprit de corps, and duty to neighbors. English, math, Sanskrit, Scripture, and other branches of study figured in the standings. Gymnastics counted for 400 points; while English, math, and Sanskrit were only 100 points each. “Pluck and unselfishness” counted 300 points; and boating, swimming, deportment, cleanness, and esprit de corps counted 200 points each. The teachers, most of them former students, tried to bring out all the powers of each boy. No boy needed all skills. If he had a poor memory, he might excel in bodily prowess. If he was weak or crippled, he could put forth his energy in excelling in soul subjects. When a boy thought he was treated unfairly by the teacher, the whole class decided the matter – judgement by his peers, either commendation or condemnation. The subjects were not graded according to their relative importance, but according to the subject’s popularity with the boys. All the boys were keen on math, but many had a distaste for gymnastics; so, gymnastics counted four times as much as math. In marks for athletic sports, the best marks were not for excelling, but for trying the hardest.
The author returned with the swimmers across the lake in gondola-like boats with thatched roofs. The sailed down the main “street” of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. In that quaint old city of 130,000 inhabitants, most of the streets were waterways. Temples, mosques, palaces, and balconied buildings with grass and poppies growing on their roofs lined the canals. One of the dilapidated structures, with a crop of hay growing on the roof, was their destination. They disembarked at a landing and ascended a steep flight of stairs. The boys left their shoes on the veranda and entered barefoot. It was an old Eastern custom. That was unlike most schools which tried to make the students exterior as western as possible in hopes his interior would follow suit. The custom of leaving shoes at the door had one drawback in Kashmir: theft. The Kashmir people were notorious for thievery. If a boy was caught stealing shoes, the shoes were tied around his neck, so that he had them always in view. At such tricks, the high-caste Brahmins seemed to be the worst offenders. The boys were just answering roll-call as they entered the main assembly room. There was one religious picture, “The Light of the World”, hanging over the dais. Portraits of the current and a former King of England, and the Maharajah of Kashmir also hung on the wall. Above all was the school crest – a pair of oars, crossed, and the words “In all things be men”. Four honor boards were kept in view of the boys. One had the names of those who showed pluck, skill, and endurance; while another had the name of the two head boys for every year since Dr. Biscoe took charge. A third board had the names of sixteen boys who had risked their lives for others; and on the last, there was just one name, that o a boy who died saving his brother from drowning. Instead of rewarding individuals, prizes were given to the top class in school; the students dividing up the prize among themselves or keeping it for the community. Bright boys in a class knew that weaker fellows would bring down the class grade, which led to more cooperation. A Burmese gong boomed to mark the arrival of the half-hour recess for gymnastics; the Junior School of 300 first, then the Upper School of 300. The school band struck up a tune, and, in a few seconds, the boys were swinging, whirling, jumping, fencing, and boxing. There was a regatta in the afternoon, so they returned to the beautiful lake. There were more than 100 boys in all manner of craft. The authors party went out in a little boat of their own. Suddenly, every boat except the author’s turned turtle. The boys splashed about, then rightened their boats, bailed them out, and climbed back in. Then they paddled back to the city.
The Kashmiris in general, except for the boatman caste, not only did not learn to swim, but thought that if they were upset in a squall, water demons would catch them, whether they swam or not. These young men had gone a long way to convince the people of Kashmir that they need not drown merely because they fell in the water. The rule was that every boy must pass a swimming test before his fourteenth birthday. When compulsory swimming was introduced, more than 100 boys were withdrawn from the school. Besides parental objections, the boys themselves were timid. For six years people would jeer the youths in racing boats. By 1921, things had changed. The school had turned out thousands of swimmers, who were not only competent to save life, but also to teach others to swim. Twenty years prior, the picture was quite different. Some 200 dirty, evil-smelling human beings squatted on the hall floor with mouths open and vacant expressions. They devoured the wisdom of the West, for that wisdom meant state employment. The boys of the school in 1921, no longer belonged to that cynical type. The fame of the school was no longer confined to Kashmir. It was known throughout India, among the western teachers bringing knowledge to the East. Both British and American teachers traveled into that remote country during their vacations to learn how that school of Srinagar was so successful. It was with two of those educational missionaries that the author made a journey to Kashmir. One result of such pilgrimages was that athletics were being more generally emphasized in the mission schools of the Ganges Valley.
The final article in this month’s issue is entitled “A Pilgrimage to Amernath, Himalayan Shrine of the Hindu Faith” and was written by Louise Ahl Jessop. It contains twenty-nine black-and-white photographs, seven of which are full-page in size.
Far up in the Northwestern part of India lied the Kingdom of Kashmir. It included Baltistan in the north, Ladakh in the east, Gilgit, Hunza, and Chitral in the northwest, Jammu in the south, and the beautiful Vale of Kashmir in the southwest. The Kingdom had an area of 80,000 square miles, and a population of nearly 3,000,000. Three-fourths of Kashmiris were Mohammedans, a fifth were Hindus, and the rest were Buddhist and Sikhs. It was ruled by a native prince under British protection. The history of the country went back many centuries, and at one time, Kashmir was one of the two most powerful kingdoms in northern India. Later, it suffered from invasion after invasion, and was conquered and reconquered. It was reduced by Akbar, the great Mongol emperor, and its lovely Vale was the summer resort of his son, Jahangir and his queen, the beautiful Nur Mahal. Their pleasure in that Garden of Eden, as portrayed in “Lalla Rookh” had made it famous the world over. After reading “Lalla Rookh”, the author desired to see Kashmir, but felt it impossible. When it was decided that they would spend their holiday in Kashmir, it was like a dream come true. With guide-books and maps, they tracked routes and decided how to fit a crowded agenda into only five weeks. From all the towns, mountains, and camps, Amernath, one of the Meccas of Hindu pilgrims, stood out as the most desirable to see. Kashmir was a far cry from Calcutta, and one travelled many hundreds of miles before standing upon its threshold. Their way laid toward the northwest, up through Bengal, the United Provinces, and the Punjab, past the sacred city of Benares, Cawnpore, Agra, and Delhi, and on to Rawalpindi. There they left the railway and started their long drive of 200 miles to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. The vehicles were waiting for them at the Rawalpindi station. They ironed out a contract with their owner.
The party of five set out in a landau and two tongas with their twenty-nine pieces of luggage. The three ladies occupied the landau, with skinny horses. Packed with the ladies were bedding, rain gear, baskets, and cameras. The gentlemen, and the remainder of the luggage, including two boxes of tinned provisions, occupied the tongas. They were two-wheeled vehicles, capable of accommodating four people. At 9 o’clock, they were off for Tret, 25 miles away and their next stopping place. The first 10 miles were across a level valley, and reminded the author of her home in Pennsylvania, except for the huts and local dress. Further along, the road entered low hills. A passing tonga damaged a wheel on the landau, causing an hour’s delay to repair it. Three miles from Tret, the main ascent began. They climb a spur of pine-clad hills to the dak-bungalow, 4,000 feet above sea-level. Dak-bungalows were rest-houses built by the government and situated every 12 or 15 miles along roads away from the railway. They were from two to five rooms in size, and had a caretaker. Those on much-traveled routes also had caterers. Anyone could stay 24 hours upon the payment of a rupee (32 cents). The road from Tret to Kohala, 38 miles away, laid through beautiful pines. They passed many caravans of ox-carts, piled high with baskets of fruit from Kashmir. The ascent in the next 11 miles to Sunnybank, two miles below Murree, was over 2,000 feet. Progress was slow, and they walked part of the way to stretch their legs. Murree was a popular Punjab hill station, but they passed by and began a long descent of 27 miles. The pine-covered hills were cultivated, further down, in terraces of growing grain. At each turn in the road, the scene changed; and they admired the same hill from a different viewpoint. About six miles from Kohala, the Jhelum River came into view. They scarcely lost sight of it until they left Islamabad, many days later. The Kohala dak-bungalow seemed good that night, with its refreshing baths, comfortable beds, and excellent dinner of six courses.
Each night, they planned to leave early the next day, and each morning, struggle as they would, they were late getting off. The morning was bright, clear, and warm, for Kohala was only 2,000 feet above sea-level. After securing permits, they crossed the fine new suspension bridge over the Jhelum and pass into Kashmir. There was a drive of 55 miles ahead of them, as they wished to reach Chakothi that night. The landau led the procession, and their driver, or gari-walla, was determined that they should stop at Garhi. His protests disappeared upon the offer of baksheesh. The danger of that plan, meant being held up constantly for more money. A judicious mixture of sternness and bribery was the best way to go. After crossing the bridge, the valley was very narrow, little wider than the river, which was there a mountain torrent. The road wound around the left bank of the Jhelum. Further on, the valley widened into a cultivated plain. Much Indian corn grew in Kashmir, and the author saw one patch surrounding the farmer’s hut, and higher than its roof. Near Chakothi, the valley became very narrow again, and the road was high over the foaming torrent. It was night before they reach their destination. After leaving Chakothi, one passed through some of the most stupendous cuttings in India, the road in places being dug out of solid rock, with sheer cliffs, 250 feet high, on one side, and a dizzying drop of the same distance to the river on the other. The road from Kohala to Baramula, 98 miles, was considered a wonderful feat of modern engineering. It was begun in 1880, and completed ten years after. It cost much money and many lives. At Baramula, they were interested in the pretty Kashmir-Swiss cottage type of house, usually two stories high, sometimes four. There, the road left the river, and the valley widened until the hills were indistinct masses of blue haze. Most of the 35-mile road to Srinagar lied between rows of tall poplars planted very close together. Baramula was the gateway to the Vale of Kashmir. That valley was an oval basin, 80 miles long and 20 broad, extending southeast to northwest.
They reached Srinagar, the capital, after a drive of three and a half days, though it could be made in two by mail tonga or motor. At the post-office they were met by Rahim Kahn, their guide for the next three weeks, who escorted them to the house-boat which was their home, off and on, for that time. Their guide had a habit of overcharging them. They protested, but often gave in. The author described Suryya Nagar (Srinagar) as the “Venice of the East”, with its fascinating water life. It boasted beautiful embroideries, silverware, beaten copper, carved woodwork, paper-mâché, brass, silk, and precious stones. It was hard to escape the spell of the city, but Amernath was their goal. Reluctantly, the order was given to go up the river to Islamabad. The three-day trip up the sluggish stream was peaceful and restful, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, read a little, write a little, and relax. Following the great curves of the river, Islamabad, or its port, Kanbal, was about 47 miles. The scenery featured karewahs, or alluvial plateaus, some continuous with the foothills, others isolated. On the lower slopes were terraces rice-fields, with India corn growing higher up and wheat on top. Life on a house boat would have become confined and tiresome, were it not for the frequent stops for food and water, and in order to see interesting ruins along the way. There cooking was done on a separate boat that followed theirs. They always tied up along the shore to be served. They stretched themselves by walking along a path. At Bijbihara, two of the men left them to walk the last four miles to Kanbal, which was faster than the boat, to arrange for horses for their trip through the mountains. Unfortunately, horses were difficult to get due to people returning from the hill stations. After considerable trouble, eight pack ponies and three riding horses for the ladies were engaged. The men hoped they could get their own mounts at Eishmakam, the next stopping place, 16 miles away. They slept their last night in their home on the water for nearly a fortnight, and were up early the next morning to set off. Each pony was properly packed, other equipment was carried by servants. One coolie carried the cameras, and another, their tiffin basket. At last, their cavalcade was ready and they set their faces toward Amernath.
The ladies led off on their ponies, with the men following on foot with the coolies. Next came the ponies with their handlers followed by water-carriers and other servants. Their way laid through Islamabad, up the side of a steep plateau to Martand, down again to Bawan, and on up the valley by cart-road, past rice fields, to Eishmakam. Islamabad was the second town of Kashmir, with 20,000 people. Three miles from Islamabad, over the rice-covered top of a plateau, stood the temple of Martand, the most picturesque ruins in Kashmir. The temple was situated in the center of a quadrangle 250 feet long and 150 feet wide, enclosed by a colonnade of 84 pillared arches and fluted columns. The temple originally included a central building similar to a cathedral. Some said that a temple was built there as early as 3000 B. C., by Ramadeva for the, now vanished, city of Babul. The present structure was supposed to date to the first half of the fifth century A. D. At Bawan, they had tiffin in a grove of chenar trees and visited two tanks of crystal water sacred to Vishnu, in which fish were kept. They reached Eishmakam about 4 o’clock. While they had tea, crackers, jam, and cheese, the coolies set up the tents. At each stop, the lumbardar of the village always paid his respects soon after their arrival, bringing a gift of apples or walnuts. They usually gave him a rupee, for it was through him that they obtained milk, eggs, wood, and oil as they went along. Those village head men were usually elderly and dressed like a peasant. Men and women alike wore the gown-like pheran. Perched on top of a steep hill above the village of Eishmakam was a monastery. That shrine was built in memory of Zain-ud-din, a disciple of the greatest of Kashmiri saints. Their way from Eishmakam laid up the Liddar Valley, along a good cart-road and through a beautiful forest, to Pahlgam, their next stop. There, at a height of 7,300 feet, many people from the Punjab and the lower valleys of Kashmir camped through the summer months. They were all gone by the time the author’s party arrived, and the little church and country store were closed for the season. They pitched their tents on a grassy level about two miles up from the native village. There, one of the ladies remained with two servants for five days, while the four others made the trip to Amernath and back.
When they left Pahlgam, they departed the beaten track. Through forests and over barren hills, they followed a mere trail, not always well defined. While they were having tiffin at Tanin, 10,500 feet up, one of the riding ponies wandered off. One of the pack ponies wandered off back in Eishmakam and was never found. It took a fearful half hour to find the animal. Just after leaving Tanin, the river cut through what looked like a bridge of marble. It was difficult to believe that it was a snow-bridge. From there on, their path wound up, in zigzag after zigzag, the almost perpendicular side of the mountain, which rose 1,500 feet above the river. Progress was slow for pony and person as well. The men walked much of the way to the top, and, every now and then, the women rested their ponies by switching to the men’s pair. The path from the top of Pisu (the hill they had just climbed) wound around a steep, grassy slope, and overlooked a canyon more than a thousand feet deep. Along the way grew wild strawberries, snapdragons, and purple thistle. One of the men was a sportsman, and the coolies led him to the edge of a cliff, where he shot a pigeon. They divided it among the four of them the next day for tiffin. Zojpal, their next camping place, 11,300 feet up, was a grassy meadow by the side of the river. They had passed a big herd of cattle, and many flocks of sheep. Perched high up on the slopes, one saw rude huts made of boughs. They belonged to the Gujars who, in the spring, brought their flocks through the pass from British India. Hillside after hillside were covered with their sheep, goats, cattle, and buffalo, as well as those of Kashmiri shepherds. Zojpal was very cold, and they had a roaring fire and ate a hot meal. The following morning at 9 o’clock they were on their way again – the final lap for the next camping place would be their last before reaching Amernath. Another frightfully steep hill had to be climbed. Their path zigzagged up almost perpendicularly, wound over another spur, and then round and round a barren rocky hilltop, covered in spots with juniper. They were above the tree-line, and would be so for two and a half more days. Following the river, they came to two small lakes, and then, further up, Lake Shisha Nag, with a diameter of one-third of a mile. The color was of a dark green, with a peculiar bluish tinge. Shisha Nag was surrounded on three sides by an amphitheater of limestone rock. The lake was covered with ice until June.
The climb from Shisha Nag was over a snow-bridge through a sort of meadow, enclosed by mountains. On up they went, through another meadow enclosed by towering domes and minarets of solid rock, past the source of their mountain river, and finally emerged on the top of Punjitarni Pass, 14,000 feet above sea-level. There. they picked eidelweiss and had a nice tiffin, including their precious pigeon. From the top of the watershed looking forward, the Amernath Mountain rose ahead of them in barren grandeur. Just before reaching Punjitarni, there was a steep descent, at the right of which was a big rock with loose stones on the top and piled high of the sides. It was a place of worship for the pilgrims. Beyond that, they crossed a river bed. On the far bank, in a meadow at 13,000 feet, they pitched their tents. Luckily, they found some wood left by pilgrims. Each of the two nights they spent at that place, they had a roaring fire. It was cold on the first of October. They piled on clothes, blankets, and eider down, but could not keep warm at night. Everything was covered in frost in the morning, but when the sun came up, everyone thawed out and was happy. The first morning they woke to the sound of great lamentation – a coolie found that one of the pack ponies had died. The second day out from Pahlgam, they had learned that no food for the horses had been bought, even though funds had been given to the tenders for its purchase. At Tanin, on the way back, the first point with a bazaar, the servants were told they could buy no food for themselves until they bought food for the ponies, and that they should be fed in the party’s presence. That way they knew that the ponies had at least one meal not stolen from them by their masters. After the trip was over, the owner of the pony who died was reimbursed for his losses with five rupees, for which he was very grateful.
From Punjitarni to Amernath was five miles, the last three of which must be traveled on foot. For the first two miles, the path wound around the hillside, beside the stream they had crossed to reach their camp. The path became too steep for the ponies, and they left them on the lower slope to happily browse on what grass they could find. The winding path traced up the almost perpendicular side of that spur, more than 500 feet to the top. The author had to take the climb in short stages, with many rests. The path followed the hill to the right for some time, then to the left across snow-fields, over loose stones, and finally up the last steep ascent over rock masses to the entrance of the cave. Alternate thawing and freezing made the snow-fields solid. The largest was about a half mile long and 80 feet across at its widest. It was from the top of that immense bridge that they had their first glimpse of the famous cave – an opening 150 feet long, wide, and deep, in a huge mass of gypsum rock. Near the cave, a cold crystal stream tumbled down the mountain side in a series of beautiful cascades, the only unboiled water they drank in Kashmir. To complete the picture, the author imagined the six or seven thousand pilgrims hurrying along the valley toward their Mecca. They were too late for that pilgrimage, which occurred at the full moon in July or August. The Hindus came from all parts of India, some barefoot and only half clad. Many died, from inclement weather or, like in 1900 and 1901, cholera, which ravaged the Happy Valley in a most cruel manner. The interior of the cave was very disappointing to the author. At the back of it were some springs, which formed a domed-shaped block of ice, somewhat like the lingam, or symbol of Siva. That ice was as clear as crystal. At times that dome was two feet high and covered three or four square-yards. It was much smaller during the author’s visit. A few flowers and clay lamps were found in the cave – the only remains of the worshippers of six weeks prior.
At the request of one of his clerks, one member of the party laid a garland of flowers on the icy symbol of the “great destroyer”, most popular of the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The author tried to comprehend what the Hindu though of this abode of a god. She compared it to a Christian visiting Jerusalem and walking in the footsteps of Christ. The Hindus believe that Siva was the destroyer who ushered in another life, and the word meant life that never ends; so, the devotee who entered that holy ground would, in his mind, receive eternal life. That was a goal worth the arduous climb to the cave of Amernath.
At the bottom of the last page of the final article in this issue (Page 542) there is a notice regarding change of address. If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month. If a member wanted the January issue redirected, the Society needed to know by December first.
© 2023 Created by Cathy Hunter. Powered by